In this post, I am combining thoughts about writing with remembering those who died in the First World War. Several years ago I wrote a book called EDDIE’S WAR. Despite submitting it to several publishers, it has not been accepted.
I have a sneaking fondness for it as I did a lot of research in an effort to get the details right and I really liked the main character. While Eddie Knight was a Canadian farm boy, his thoughts, dreams and fears were similar to those of boys from other countries such as the British Isles, Australia and New Zealand. In a way, Eddie stands for all the young men caught up in the cruel manacles of that war.
Eddie had seldom left the farm where he lived in a difficult situation. He was too young to enlist but tall and broad enough to appear older. When his brother Bill signed up, Eddie did too. Since his stepfather was happy to lie about their ages, both boys were accepted into the Expeditionary Force. Travelling from the west by train was exciting for Eddie and he describes his reactions in the red diary his mother gave him. He also wrote home and received letters from his family.
The Canadians were quartered in Quebec where they were given uniforms and equipment, divided into battalions and introduced to army discipline. Finally, the troops are loaded onto ships for the journey to England. Eddie wondered as he watched the Canadian landscape disappear if he would see his country again but Bill assured him the war would be over by Christmas.
Life on the training fields of Salisbury Plain was endurable until it rained and everything turned to mud. The Canadians discovered their boots fell to pieces in the bad weather and their rifles jammed. As in every war, men made money behind the scenes by providing faulty equipment and weapons. Not much has changed.
When leave was granted, the soldiers went to London. Eddie was delighted to see all the places his father had talked about. In 1914, many young men had parents or grandparents who were born in Britain and English history was taught in schools. After their leave, the troops were sent to France. Eddie wrote about the different scenery and people and hoped that he would be brave enough to face the guns.
Life in the trenches was a new experience as the men coped with mud, rats, lack of sleep and decent rations and the deaths and injuries of their comrades. In my research, I read about senseless battles in which waves of men on both sides were cut down by enemy guns in the vain attempt to capture a hill or a village. My Eddie survived the horrific conditions in the Somme where men and animals drowned in the mud. He was wounded but recovered and returned to the front. His brother Bill did not survive the war. He was killed by an exploding shell in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Not enough of him remained to be buried. In my mind, he represents all the young men who died in war but were never identified by a grave marker.
Writing my novel made me sad and angry. I felt sorrow for the loss of so many young lives and anger for the way the war began and was then conducted by the politicians and the generals. It is supremely ironic that this was known as the war to end all wars. I wonder who gave it that title.